Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Well, hell. Somebody's got to post on the conclusion of the Spanish football League, so I guess it's got to be me. With two games to go, Real Sociedad controlled its own destiny. They lost, putting Real Madrid in the driver's seat, and Madrid doesn't blow the big games. League title to Madrid, number 29 so far. Real Sociedad still had a great year; they're generally a midtable team but this year they put it all together and gave Real Madrid a genuine run for their money. Deportivo de la Coruna came in a respectable third and Celta de Vigo fourth. They all go to next season's Champions League. This is also a good showing for Celta, another midtable squad.

Valencia came in a disappointing fifth and Barcelona squeaked into the last UEFA Cup place for 2003-04. I wish they hadn't; they haven't been punished enough for me to be able to go back to them. Being left out of European competition altogether would have been an appropriate expiation of their sins. Athletic Bilbao was seventh, if that counts for anything.

The third UEFA Cup place goes to the winner of the Spanish King's Cup, which will be either midtable Mallorca or, get this, Recreativo de Huelva. Recre is one of the three teams that will go down to Second,along with Rayo Vallecano and Alavés of Vitoria. Coming up are Zaragoza, normally another midtable squad but fallen on hard times, and Albacete and Murcia, firm candidates already to be back on the elevator, but downward, next year.

FC Barcelona news: Frank Rikjaard is to be the next coach, not a bad pick. He's got a four-year contract, which means that they're giving him the reins. Txiki Beguiristain will be the technical director, general manager in American. Frank De Boer will be gone next year; they have already announced they won't sign him. Frank is pissed and threw a snit. Gee, Frank, Barça wanted you so bad they agreed to buy your brother, whom they didn't want, in order to bring you here. Then they paid you well for four years. Meanwhile, you sucked. You were supposed to be a good defender. You weren't. You were supposed to be able to make the long pass. You couldn't. You were supposed to play at a professional level. Half the time you didn't know where the ball was or only figured it out when it was too late. If I were going to be a jerk I'd say you voided that clause in your contract that says something about "the player must stay in shape and not get fat or anything." They are going to re-sign Cocu for one season at a reduced price. OK, I suppose, but don't let him start. If he's your fifth or sixth midfielder that's all right, if he comes cheap. The problem comes if you treat him as your second or third midfielder. Cocu should begin every game on the bench unless somebody's injured.

They are not going to pick up their options on Mendieta (good move) or Sorin; I'd buy Sorin if he came cheap. Riquelme and Kluivert are slated for "talks" with management; they're almost certainly going to get rid of Riquelme, who's just not very good, and they want to cut Kluivert's huge salary. This Turkish goalie they bought named Rustu counts as one of the three "excellent" players that the new Joan Laporta regime has promised us. He still hasn't gotten the two superstars, either.

Real Madrid news: the Vanguardia printed a really snotty story on how the Real Madrid players behaved like jackasses at the official We Won the League celebration they always hold at the Cibeles fountain in central Madrid whenever Real wins something. They are going to get rid of Hierro, which is a good move, it's time. If I were Hierro I'd retire. There's no point playing out the string for a couple of bad years with a bad team. He must have plenty of money already. They are also canning Vicente del Bosque as coach. He only won two Leagues and two Champions' Leagues in four years. I'd say that's extremely successful. He is apparently what they call a "players' coach", though, and what with all the huge egos in the Madrid clubhouse, now plus the biggest Madrid has ever seen, they're getting some guy from Manchester United who is, like, businesslike or whatever.

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